The war in Europe


Operation Barbarossa (22nd of June 1941)


Why did the Allies defeat Hitler?


The weakness of the Axis powers

  • Germany did not commit its full military capacity in the invasion of Britain in 1941, Hitler allowed Britain to survive.
  • The invasion of the Soviet Union was to prove a huge mistake; it undid all the gains made by the Nazi-Soviet Pact and once again pushed many into a war on two fronts.
  • Stephan Lee observes the effects of Operation Barbarossa as a commitment made by Germany to a power three times the size of its population. He goes on to indicate that this took the pressure of Britain and greatly assisted the industrial capacity of the war effort.
  • Declaring war on the USA (11th of September 1941), was another error and showed the serious lack of judgement on Hitler's part.
  • Hitler's personal conduct of military operations was disastrous.
  • He focused developing V-rockets when large-scale production of jet aircraft could have restored German air superiority and weakened Allied bombing campaigns between 1944 and 1945.
  • Women were not employed in German and Japanese munition factories.

The strengths of the Allies

  • Hitler faced economic difficulties after 1942 which allowed the Allies to grow stronger.
  • Russia was producing more and better quality armaments than Germany by 1943, and the Americans had reached full capacity, producing 70,000 tanks and 120,000 aircraft a year.
  • Richard Overy points out that the greater economic resources and more armaments did not in themselves guarantee victory for the Allies. The key to the success was turning economic strength into effective fighting power.
  • The Allies had learnt from their mistakes in 1941 and increased the effectiveness of future combat.
  • They improved the quality as well as the quantity of military forces and technology.
  • They ensured excellent back-up services were available.
  • They set up a large civilian apparatus to support the Allied forces, which allowed them to mobilise their economic, intellectual, and organisational strength for waging war.
  • 85% of America's war effort was developed to defeating Germany, while the other was to defeat Japan.
  • The Allies poured massive amounts of money and effort into a strategic bombing campaign, and this had a serious effect on Germany's capacity of effective fighting on the front.

War in the East: an overview


The battle of Midway (June 1942)


Japanese retreat


The atomic bomb and the Japanese surrender

  • Japan was on the verge of defeat.
  • America had used its tactic of 'island hopping' to get closer to Japan, and had consistently bombed Japanese cities since November 1944.
  • The Allies would not accept anything other than an 'unconditional surrender'.
  • Required a method to scare Stalin who had become increasingly involved amongst the Allies, as he wanted land in the east when the war ended.
  • The first A-bomb ('Little Boy') was dropped on Hiroshima on the 6th of August 1945; killing 80,000 and injuring 80,000 more.
  • The second ('Fat Man') was dropped on Nagasaki on the 9th, killing 50,000. The Japanese surrendered shortly after.

Why were the Allies successful in defeating the Japanese?

  • The Allies had emphasised on effective back-up support for the military, and the involvement of the civilians in the military in planning and logistics.
  • America had realised the importance of aircraft carriers and had been producing new fighting weapons.
  • A critical factor was the isolation of Japan from its empire before destroying its merchant marine, navy, and naval airpower.
  • Japan could not match the American capacity for rapid expansion as it was a small island with limited industrial power.
  • Japan's national infrastructure was destroyed and industry was unable to produce the weapons it needed as a result of the systematic bombing of industries and cities by 1945.

How was World War II fought?


The war on land

  • Germany had learnt from the 1918 Ludendorff offensive that in order to break enemy tanks, it had to concentrate attacks on stormtroopers, along with tactical air cover. This resulted in Blitzkreig.
  • World War II became an offensive war, rather than the defensive war of World War I; surprise, speed, and movement using tanks, armored vehicles, mechanised transport, and aeroplanes were all utilised.
  • Historians such as Richard Overy were doubtful that Blitzkreig was a coherent well thought-out strategy, and believe that it was an improvised response - it suited Hitler.
  • Hitler was not expecting a war in 1939; the German economy was not ready, and so Blitzkreig offered the ability for quick victories that were not demanding in casualties or resources.
  • The speed and surprise that was Germany tactic prevented other countries from mobilising into a full war and decreased enemy morale.

The success and failures of Blitzkrieg

  • Blitzkreig was successful up to 1941 - the Allies had built up resources and were ready for a full scale war, which Germany was not. This was Blitzkreig's weakness.
  • Short wars in confined areas were its strength, however the USSR offered a different battle ground.
  • The Allies learnt from their initial mistakes between 1941-43, and increasingly fought war in the same style as the Germans; heavy tanks, mobile vehicles, and air power.
  • From 1944, the Allies had dominance of the skies on all fronts.

The war at sea


The battle for the Atlantic

  • Britain's maintenance of vital trade routes on which the British population depended on was critical.
  • Until 1944, Britain fought a naval war, even more so than in World War I, however, there were no major surface engagements in the Mediterranean and Atlantic compared to the battle of Jutland.
  • Sea warfare was now about controlling supply lines, rather than who had the biggest navy.
  • From 1940-1943 Britain and Germany fought for the dominance of the Atlantic.
  • German U-boats developed quickly from 1939, which were needed to keep Britain and the USA occupied while Germany fought the USSR.
  • The U-boats were successful; in 1941 they sank 1,299 ships, and in 1942, 1,622 ships.
  • Britain cracked the Engima code and started an intelligence war.
  • Convoys were sent to protected through HF/DF and radio.
  • Air power was used to attack U-boats, and radar and liberator aircraft were able to sink 149/237 German vessels in 1943.
  • Richard Overy indicates the importance of British and American willingness to recognise and undertake a maritime strategy revolution, that the Germans were so reluctant to do themselves.
  • Japan used air power highly effectively at the start of the war with Pearl Harbour.
  • Japan wanted to completely rid America of its fleet, however, the US was able to output 90 aircraft carriers a year compared to Japan's 17.
  • The US had access to Japanese codes and radar.
  • After the Battle of Midway, Japan fell into a position which it could not recover.

What was the significance of the naval war for the outcome of World War II?

  • Played a key part in the course and outcome; the U-boat brought Britain to a subsistence levels of existence and delayed the opening of the second front.
  • Prevented build-up of American forces until 1943.
  • The victory of the Allies for the Atlantic was vital; John Keegan wrote "had it been lost ... the course, perhaps the outcome, of the Second World War would have been entirely otherwise."
  • Said victory allowed the Allies to impose crippling sea sanctions on Italy and Japan, which affected their industrial strength and prevented them from sending out reinforcements to other fronts.

The war in the air

  • Aircraft provided tactical support for armies on the ground.
  • Radio communication was used to coordinate air support, and attack enemy strong points, supply lines, troops, and vehicles.
  • Camera technology was greatly improved throughout the war, making photo-reconnaissance even more effective.

Strategic bombing

  • Aircraft in World War I played a supportive role, in World War II, they played an independent and radical role; strategic bombing.
  • It blurred the distinction between combatant and non-combatant, destroying landscape and morale.

Strategic bombing in Europe

  • The R.A.F. was forbidden from indiscriminate bombing, however Germany bombed East London in error that provoked a retaliation.
  • Hitler used the Berlin attack an excuse to launch a full-scale air assault on London, known as The Blitz.
  • The precision attacks on German industrial areas in daylight led to high casualties, and night-time attacks were inaccurate.
  • By 1944, the Allies had total air superiority.
  • With the Luftwaffe defeated, bombing in daylight and 'precision' attacks on industrial targets such as the Ruhr continued.
  • The R.A.F. largely bombed at night and the USAAF bombed over the day.
  • The Germans lacked a strategic bombing force, and used technology (V1 and V2 rockets) that could not be largely reproduced.

Strategic bombing in the Pacific

  • In Tokyo on the 9th of March 1945, the B-29s flying from Iwo Jima destroyed a quarter of the city - 1 million homes - and killed around 80,000 people.
  • The ultimate expression of strategic bombing came with the use of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, after which Japan surrendered.

The debate about strategic bombing

  • Churchill's justification for the Allied response to the accidental East London bombing was, quoting Hosea 8:7, "now those who sow the wind are reaping the whirlwind."
  • The effectiveness highly controversial; some historians (including Richard Overy) indicate the dramatic drop in German production in 1944-45 was a result of Bomber Command.
  • Other historians, such as Peter Riddick argue that the general attrition of war caused such a decline, not just the bombing.

World War II as a total war

  • Governments made every effort to fully mobilise as well as to fully utilise all of its human and material resources.
  • Because World War I had shown the effectiveness of productivity of the home front, World War II saw the increased attack of populated areas and the home front.
  • Governments used all weapons at their disposal and developed new weapons capable of killing in greater numbers.
  • Racial hatred played a key role in both wars; be it the relocation of races or mass genocide.

The aims of the belligerents

  • Hitler's aim was total domination of the USSR to provide room for the German people (lebensraum).
  • The Japanese Co-Prosperity Sphere had its aim of politically, economically, and racially dominating China.

The use of weaponry

  • Major military developments, including; radar, u-boat detection equipment, long-distance bombing, V1 and V2 rockets, and the atomic bomb.
  • Radar had the greatest impact in naval warfare.
  • The V2 weapons and nuclear missiles led indirectly to space exploration in the Cold War.
  • The jet engine revolutionised air travel.
  • The atomic bomb affected how the Cold War was fought.
  • Large scale production of sulphomide drugs and penicillin saved thousands of soldiers' lives and civilians after the war.
  • Synthetic fibres such as nylon, used to create parachutes, were sold commercially after the war.

The role of civilians

  • Civilian casualties made up to two-thirds of those found in World War II; where as in World War I it was only one twentieth.
  • The mobility of war brought war closer to home.
  • Rationing and deprivation were widespread.

Deportation and genocide

  • The ideological and racial aspect of World War II meant that sections of populations were deliberately targeted.
  • Hitler believed that the Jews and Slavs were Untermenschen and should be deported or eliminated entirely.
  • Many poles and Russians were deported in order to create room for the Greater German Reich; they were either killed or sent to mines or factories which ensured death.
  • The Gestapo and Einstazgruppen killed 63,000 men, women and children who got into their way.
  • The Final Solution was postulated to peruse the Jewish question - the radical extermination of the race could see up to 10,000 people killed a day.
  • The Japanese had similar ambitions; 'General Sakai Ryu indicated that "the Chinese People are bacteria infesting world civilisation."
  • Attitudes such as this were commonplace in Japan, hence the Japanese treatment of the Chinese in "the rape of Nanjing.

Civilians as part of the war effort

  • Civilians were mobilised in all countries to help.
  • The major combatants mobilised between a half and two-thirds of their industrial workforce.
  • Apart from the USA, vital resources of each country were directed towards war effort, with restricted goods and rationed foods.
  • Britain carefully controlled conscription and introduced women into the British industry, agriculture, and administration more so than in World War I.
  • Germany had little change in the economy as its early victories (see Blitzkreig) were of not much strain on the home front.
  • Germany's strict belief in on Kinder, Küche, Kirche meant that women maintained a place in the home and the production of consumer goods remained a priority, so only essential industries could not be transferred.
  • The Soviet Union had effectively mobilised.
    • Coercion played a key role and civilians were moved and worked harder.
    • Slacking or absenteeism was punishable by death.
    • Richard Overy notes that the Russian civilians are the "real heroes" of the USSR's economic revival after Nazi invasion (as they suffered appauling conditions, long hours, poor nutrition, and political scrutiny).
  • In America women also played a key role in war industries; doing semi-skilled jobs such as crane operators, tool makers, sheel loaders, aircraft makers, and lumberjacks. They also participated in uniformed groups such as the Navy Nurse Corps and Women's Army Auxiliary Corps.
  • Japan shared a similar view with Germany was reluctant in using women in the workforce, preferring conscript students.

The growth of government power



  • Churchill formed a coalition government and exercised supreme political and military power.
  • Ernest Bevin, Minister of Labour and National Service, was far more effective than Albert Speer, who performed a similar role in Germany.
  • Mines, shipping, and railways were nationalised.
  • Rationing and conscription was introduced for both men and women.
  • Improvements in national health- and well-fare occurred, giving vitamin supplements to mothers and young children, improving public transport.


  • Richard Overy notes that the German system was "poorly coordinated, uncooperative, and obstructive."
  • Until 1943, Germany had focused on high quality and technical sophistication rather than trying to mass produce large quantities of standard weapons.
  • It failed to produce enough to tackle the Soviet Union.

Soviet Union

  • The Soviet Union was centralised and all-powerful that had carefully planned and mass produced large quantities of weapons with the effort of the Soviet People.
  • Stalin's "single war camp" was the only priority; producing in large numbers and completing objectives.
  • The War Production Board was established in 1942 which changed production priorities to the needs of that of the military.
  • American car factories began outputting tanks and aircraft.
  • There was a high recruitment of workers for all industries.
  • Without changing the free-market nature of the American economy, the USA was able to expand its manufacturing capacity immensely, ending the war with the most powerful economy in the world.


  • In 1940, the main political parties went into "voluntary" dissolution, being replaced by the Imperial Rule Assistance Association.
  • Trade unions were closed down and replaced with the Great Japan Patriotic Industrial ASsociation which included employers and workers.
  • Much like Germany, it was difficult to control the independent large companies and the maintenance of tight control of war production.


  • Propaganda was an important weapon for governments as it increased morale and support.
  • Germany utilised propaganda to justify its actions, and 'Goebbels stoke the German fear of communism in the East.
  • Stalin cleverly dubbed the war as the Great Patriotic War in which defense of the 'motherland' rather than the brutal communist state was motivating people.
  • In Britain, the main attitudes for war came from the war scare in 1938 in which public opinion in Britain hardened and generally, the British were ready for war, though lacking enthusiasm amongst its soldiers.
  • In America, the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 had changed the attitudes of the Americans.
  • In Britain, Churchill established the Political Warfare Executive to maintain censorship and propaganda.
  • Propaganda against the Japanese, however, was entirely different as portrayed the entire race as evil, rather than the German regime that was the Nazis. The general attitudes of the Japanese were openly racist and the portrayal in propaganda was that of primitive, uncivilised and inferior nature.